For some scam artists, love means never having to say you're broke. Using promises and sweet words, these scammers convince lonely people to give up money with a smile. It's particularly easy online, where a 60-year-old schemer can pass as a shy innocent. The desire for love is natural, but scammers exploit it as a weapon. If you know how to spot a romance scammer, you can escape the leeches before they suck you dry.
Too Good to Be True
It's flattering to think someone young, good-looking and rich wants to be with you, but is it plausible? If you find yourself thinking, "she's too good to be true," you may have identified a romance scam.
If the person chatting you up online claims to be much younger than you, for instance, be careful. Romance scammers hope that posing as someone incredibly desirable will flatter you into dropping your guard. They may pretend to have big incomes or show themselves surrounded by luxury to convince you that they have no need to rip you off. The person's profile may be awash with images that show how incredibly sexy he or she is, to sway you further.
Where You Meet
Lots of dating sites have systems set up to deal with abuse. A scammer will often suggest switching to email ASAP so that he can talk to you without anyone else catching him out. He may tell you that he's already in love with you after he's taken down his profile — moving too fast is a common romance spammer trick.
If you suggest an in-person meeting, he'll invariably say no or cancel. That keeps you from seeing that the handsome face in the profile isn't his real face. The reasons for canceling may sound perfectly logical — sick child, traveling for business — but no matter how many times you ask, he'll always turn you down.
Pay Attention to Language
A lot of scammers are not native English speakers, and it shows. Her syntax, word choice, sentence structure — none of it sounds quite right, and sometimes it sounds quite wrong. If someone claims to be a college-educated American but drops grammar and spelling errors into each sentence, proceed with caution, or not at all.
Inconsistencies in what she says are another warning sign. Romance scammers often work in teams, talking with dozens of targets. It's easy for one team member to lose track of what one of her colleagues told you and tell you something else.
Once the scammer thinks he's built a rapport with you, he may slip you the hook to see if you'll bite. Suddenly tragedy strikes. He needs money for plane fare to meet you. He's lost his wallet while traveling. Can you help? Once everything's taken care of, he'll be in your arms, and so very grateful.... You might want to help — after all, it could be 100 percent true, right? — but if you do, don't expect to see your money or your sweetheart again.
Scammers love to target seniors. Older individuals are often widowed and lonely, and they may have a good pile of money saved up. Some seniors lose the ability to spot trickery as they grow older.
If you see warning signs of a scam, but you want to believe, double-check. Talk to a trusted friend, show her the emails to see if she thinks the romance is real. It might be a little embarrassing, but it's better to be embarrassed than financially destroyed.
Over the course of his career, Fraser Sherman has reported on local governments, written about how to start a business and published four books of film reference. He lives in Durham NC with his awesome wife and two wonderful dogs.